Talks needed, open minds too
In recent days, several media reports have focused on the possibility of talks between the ruling Awami League and the opposition BNP over holding an inclusive national election.
Those reports read the ruling party may take an initiative to bring the BNP to the table for ensuring the latter's participation in the national election, slated for January next year, to make it acceptable to all.
But the BNP is currently busy waging a simultaneous movement with like-minded parties to press home the demand for an election-time caretaker government and resignation of the incumbent government.
Recent history shows that since the toppling of autocratic regime of HM Ershad in 1990, dialogues took place between different political parties, especially the Awami League and BNP, ahead of almost all elections.
But there is not a single instance of any dialogue yielding result, thanks to uncompromising attitude of the two major political parties, say political analysts.
"When the political culture of the country is confrontational, the possibility of any consensus between them is very poor," said Prof Al Masud Hasanuzzaman of government and politics department at Jahangirnagar University.
When the political parties joined the dialogues, they maintained rigid stances on their respective demands, he said, adding that such an attitude was the barrier to a fruitful resolution.
Al Masud stressed the need for talks to ensure an inclusive election. "But in that case, political parties will have to join a dialogue with compromising attitudes to make it successful," the professor added.
Let's revisit the memories of some political talks staged previously centring on the national elections.
1994: NINIAN'S FORMULA
In 1994, the opposition Awami League waged a movement over introduction of a caretaker government system for a free and fair election, but the ruling BNP was dead against the demand. The country became almost paralysed by the opposition-called shutdowns and blockades.
The then Commonwealth secretary general Sir Ninian Martin Stephen came to Dhaka in October as a special envoy to break the political impasse.
According to his formula, an 11-member interim cabinet would be formed with the incumbent prime minister in the chair. Five cabinet members would be from the ruling and five others from the opposition parties.
And the interim cabinet would give all-out support to the Election Commission for holding free and fair parliamentary polls.
Many ruling party leaders were about to agree on the formula. But the opposition parties, including the Awami League, Jatiya Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, outright rejected it and continued agitation for the caretaker government system.
The efforts of Sir Ninian along with some eminent citizens and diplomats failed to resolve the crisis. And 147 opposition lawmakers resigned from parliament on December 28, 1994, to gear up for the anti-government movement.
This resulted in a questionable election on February 15, 1996, boycotted by most of the parties. Khaleda Zia became prime minister once again, but the government lasted only 12 days in the face of an intensified mass movement of opposition parties.
The sixth Jatiya Sangsad introduced the caretaker government system in a haste by amending the constitution. The caretaker government led by Chief Justice Habibur Rahman took office at the end of March and oversaw the seventh parliamentary election held on June 12, 1996.
2001: JIMMY CARTER'S MEDIATION
In 2001, the Awami League government handed over power to the caretaker administration led by immediate-past chief justice Latifur Rahman.
Before the eighth national election that year, former US president Jimmy Carter tried to mediate a dialogue between the two main political parties. But that talks could not play any important role in the political history of Bangladesh.
In the election, the BNP-led four-party alliance won a landslide. Later, AL President Sheikh Hasina several times alleged that her party lost the election because she refused to allow the gas extraction from Bangladesh by a US company and sale to India.
2006: MANNAN-JALIL MEET
In October 2006, BNP Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil sat in a dialogue that went on for about three weeks on the issue of the election-time government.
The opposition Awami League formally presented 29 points to the ruling BNP. But there was no agreement between Bhuiyan and Jalil even after six rounds of meetings.
Finally, both ended the dialogue leaving the final decision for the shoulders of the top leaders of their parties.
The top political leaderships failed to reach any consensus, resulting in violent street fights and ultimately the political changeover of January 11, 2007.
Both Hasina and Khaleda were sent to jail during the caretaker government led by former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, who was sworn in as the chief adviser on January 12, 2007.
2014: TARANCO'S TALKS
Before the 10th parliamentary election on January 5, 2014, the BNP sat with the ruling Awami League on the issue of the election-time government at the end of 2013.
But that meeting could not yield any result.
After the formation of the Awami League government in 2009, the non-party caretaker government system was abolished, triggering a strong reaction from the BNP-led opposition.
At the beginning of 2013, the BNP-sponsored movement gained momentum as the party enforced frequent shutdowns and blockades accompanied by violence across the country.
In this context, UN's assistant secretary general for political affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco visited Bangladesh in early December 2013.
By then the election date was announced.
Taranco held meetings with then opposition leader Khaleda Zia and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Besides, he sat with senior leaders of the two parties, including the then AL general secretary and BNP secretary general.
But as both the parties stayed rigid on their positions, Taranco finally left the country without seeing any solution.
However, at a press conference at Sonargaon Hotel before leaving, he said both sides had agreed to continue the talks.
Amid the political standoff, the national election was held on January 5, 2014, which saw a total 153 candidates win uncontested -- 127 of them from the ruling party. The election was boycotted by some major political parties, including the BNP and the Jamaat.
2018: RULLING ALLIANCE VS OIKYAFRONT
The weeklong talks between the ruling alliance and opposition parties in November 2018 ended with all the major contentious issues remaining unsettled.
During the talks with Jatiya Oikyafront-led by eminent jurist and Gono Forum President Dr Kamal Hossain, the Awami League-led combine outright rejected the former's proposals for formation of a polls-time neutral government led by a chief adviser; dissolution of parliament before the announcement of election schedule; and deferment of the election by a month.
The ruling combine termed the proposals unconstitutional and said there was no scope for going beyond the constitution.
The Oikyafront, an alliance of the BNP and several other parties, had placed the proposals in writing "for the sake of a free, fair and participatory election".
The BNP-led 20-party alliance and the Oikyafront, however, decided to participate in the polls saying it was part of their movement.
The BNP bagged only seven seats in the national polls held on December 31, 2018, marred by allegations of widespread irregularities that drew condemnation at home and abroad.